Baptist Why and Why Not (1900)
Chapter 8: Why Baptism Of Believers and Not Infants
By R. P. Johnston, D. D.
Pastor Third Baptist Church
St. Louis, Missouri
And as they went on their way they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:36-39.
THE question, “What is Baptism,” lies entirely outside the province of this paper. It is confined strictly to the question of the subjects of baptism. By strict analysis its scope may be further limited; for all Christian bodies which practice baptism at all practice that of believers. They all believe in that. There is hearty agreement on that one point. No body of Christians would reject a believer who applied for baptism, merely on the ground that he was a believer. But while all such Christians believe in and practice the baptism of believers, some practice that kind of baptism only. Others baptize believers and infants. So the question becomes, not “Are believers proper subjects for baptism,” but “Are they the only proper subjects?” In other words, are infants ever proper subjects? That is the sole question now at issue. In order to arrive at a correct conclusion in this matter, recourse must be had to the authority upon which baptism is based. Why do we baptize any one? Why practice the ordinance at all? The sole authority for Christian baptism is found in the New Testament. It is distinctly a New Testament ordinance. I am not deciding offhand the much mooted question of proselyte baptism by the Jews before the Christian era. If that ever existed, it was a different thing in essential particulars from the baptism of John, of Christ, and of the apostles. So it is clear that baptism as a Christian ordinance is based solely upon the teaching of the New Testament. The infallible and authoritative record of its nature, purposes, and subjects are to be found there and there only.
The supreme question, therefore, is “What does the New Testament say about infant baptism.” Does it anywhere command it? Is there any record of a solitary example of it? Is there a plain allusion to it? Is there a clear and conclusive inference for it in these records and writings of Christ and the apostles?
There is unquestionably much about believers’ baptism. Faith and baptism are often connected; repentance and baptism stand together. But is there anything said about infant baptism? The plain answer to these questions is simply, no. There is not one solitary word in the whole Bible about infant baptism. Emphasize that statement. In all the Word of God, with its manifold commands and examples, and instructions, not so much as the mention of infant baptism is found nor even a plain inference for it. It is simply a thing about which the Bible writers are unvaryingly silent. It is hardly too much to say that it is a thing totally outside their experience. In the discussion that has extended through the centuries, not one command, not one example, not one allusion, not one sound exegetical inference has been educed for infant baptism from the Word of God. A wise teacher was wont to say that the passages relied on to support the practice of infant baptism are of three classes. First, those which mention infants and do not mention baptism. Second, those which mention baptism and do not mention infants. Third, those which mention neither infants nor baptism. An exhaustive study of God’s Word and Pedobaptist literature on this subject will clearly establish the fairness of this classification.
The truth is even stronger than has been stated. Infant baptism is not only not sanctioned by the Word of God, it is actually incompatible with its plain teaching. It is not only an extrascriptural practice, it is anti-scriptural. The inferences often urged for infant baptism are rare, vague, attenuated, and baseless. The inferences against it are numerous, logical, and irrefragable. The admission of infant baptism destroys not only the order laid down in God’s Word, but it destroys the processes of discipleship. Dr. E. C. Dargan truly says it is “opposed to the clear teaching of the Word, both by example and by precept. It is out of tune with the great doctrines of the Scripture. It does not harmonize with the doctrine of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, with that of justification by faith alone, with that of the duty of repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, with that of the individual responsibility of each soul for its actions. Again it is contrary to the general trend of Scripture teachings, and to the character of the New Testament religion.” (Ecclesiology, p. 299.)
I am not called on to show just when or under what circumstances the practice originated. My purpose is accomplished when it is shown that the practice has no basis in Scripture, but is on the other hand utterly contrary to it. My contention is that it came not from God but from man. The conditions out of which the practice sprang may readily be ascertained by an examination of the creed of the church that has longest practiced it. That is the Catholic church beyond doubt. And the reason it gives and has always given is that baptism is a saving sacrament. This does not mean that all who practice infant baptism now, believe that a child is lost which does not receive it; it only means that the church which has practiced it the longest and from which other bodies received it, practices it as the effectual means of salvation. The Catholic is at least consistent in his practice, though wrong in his premise.
Protestantism has been put to no little trouble to find a reasonable explanation for the practice, with the result that a variety of conclusions have been reached, many of them mutually destructive, and all of them inconsistent with Protestant principles. It is not an illogical assumption, especially when every line of investigation leads to the same conclusion, to say that infant baptism, the fecund source of evil, is itself the offspring of that other evil, the doctrine of baptismal regeneration. This practice having thus sprung up, nourished by the rich soil of superstition in which it had its roots, twined itself into the life and genius of the dominant church. Having so much of emotional and aesthetic support, it is not strange that when its opponents attacked it, its friends sought a basis for it in the Word of God. As the teachings of Scripture became better understood, those who believed in them as the supreme authority were forced to abandon the dogma of baptismal regeneration, and with the abandonment of that, the only logical basis for infant baptism was removed. In their desperation, they fell back upon the Old Testament, and declared that baptism took the place of circumcision and therefore was to be administered to infants. They seemingly forgot or ignored the inconvenient fact that Jesus, the apostles, and many of the early Jewish Christians were both circumcised and baptized; that as the Jews were the natural children of Abraham, so the Christians were children by faith, and that as the natural children were circumcised, so the children by faith are to be baptized, which would exclude infants. They seemingly also overlooked the fact that not a word, not a hint is anywhere to be found that baptism is in lieu of circumcision, though, had it been so, various opportunities, almost necessities, arose for plainly declaring it. The advocates of the circumcision theory of infant baptism make enormous drafts on Scriptural silence, and larger ones on willing credulity.
The limits of this paper forbid a detailed discussion of the various passages which have been used as proof-texts for infant baptism. Those desiring conclusive answer to arguments based upon the coming of little children to Christ, to be blessed not baptized, the three cases of household baptism referred to in the New Testament, and other passages upon which Pedobaptists usually rely, are referred to Dr. Wilkinson’s “The Baptist Principle.” It is one thing to found a practice upon Scripture and quite another thing to attempt to justify a practice by Scripture. It is possible to find passages which, wrenched from their connection, may be bent and twisted to support, apparently, a preconceived theory; but such a process is not safe, and rarely if ever leads to truth. For instance, the practice of infant baptism became established. Its advocates have sought to justify it by Scripture. But I dare say that were the practice not in existence no one having any claims to scholarship or any regard for his reputation as a scholar would seek to originate such a practice on the authority of Scripture. The fact is that the proof-texts cited to support the practice when fairly and correctly interpreted, not only do not support but oppose it.
But infant baptism is not only extra-scriptural and anti-scriptural-it has been the open door through which the most hurtful and deadly evils have entered among Christians. It will not do to say that it is, at least, a harmless practice. History clearly proves that it not only does no good, but that it has worked untold injury. Dr. Wilkinson in his admirable book, above referred to, shows conclusively that without infant baptism, or some such equivalent, the papacy in its historic form could never have existed. The papacy was possible only as it discarded believers’ baptism. It built itself on the wreck of the true teaching of the Word of God. Look at the spiritual dearth and death wrought by the Catholic church. Read its history of perversion, superstition, inquisition, assassination, moral and intellectual slavery and degradation, and remembering that it would have been logically and utterly impossible but for the departure from believers’ and the substitution of infants’ baptism, and answer if this unscriptural innovation is harmless. Furthermore, the thing that has given the deadliest blow to spirituality and freedom, after the papacy, has been the so-called state churches. They have been an attempt to divorce the Bride from her Bridegroom and pledge her at the altar of earthly power. And the corner stone of state churches is infant baptism. No state church has ever been attempted without it; none could be perpetuated but for it. And the history of state churches wherever they were not affected by the leaven of non-conformity, has been one of spiritual decay and death.
Further, infant baptism has constantly tended to the breaking down of barriers between the church and the world. It has obscured the spiritual and emphasized the ceremonial element in religion. It has lost sight of regeneration as an act of the Holy Spirit, and has substituted the deadly dogma of baptismal regeneration. It has substituted a human sentiment and expedient for an inspired command. It has discarded the spiritual conditions demanded of subjects in the days of the apostles and has thus destroyed the spiritual import of the ordinance. Infant baptism can by no possible interpretation be called obeying the command, “be baptized.” And so it happens when one who has been baptized in infancy comes to accountability and exercises personal faith in Christ, he finds a barrier across the path of obedience when he desires to take the next step. He can not obey Christ in baptism because of something that was done to him in his unconscious infancy. The result is that he must suppress conviction of duty, or break with the church of his parents. God knows how many a Pedobaptist heart is the grave of a suppressed conviction of duty to obey Christ in baptism.
It can not be urged that baptism is a consecration of the child to God. Baptist parents as truly consecrate their children to God as do others. Baptism is a voluntary consecration of self to God, and infant baptism never can be that. Infant baptism is a species of will worship. It attempts to improve on the divine order. It introduces the element of religion by proxy, and thus lifts the emphasis from individual responsibility. It tends to a fatal dependence upon ceremony instead of a safe reliance upon personal obedience to Christ. It is a fearful responsibility, whether assumed by a church or by an individual, to take from or add to the instructions left us in the Word of God. It is a piece of unparalleled presumption to essay to improve on the divine order and harmony of the teachings of Christ. One inconsistency in the interpretation of God’s Word and our duty easily begets another. There are many members of Pedobaptist churches who neither believe in nor practice infant baptism. They admit that it is unscriptural and subversive of genuine obedience. Yet they remain members of churches that stand for it, inculcate it, and practice it. In other words, they give their lives to the support and perpetuation of what they confess is unscriptural and injurious. Possibly should a Baptist say anything to them they would reply by some allusion to “close communion,” forgetting that infant baptism is at bottom largely responsible for close communion. The latter is largely a protest against the former. The doom of infant baptism is the death knell of sprinkling and pouring; and when these pass away, close communion will for the most part pass with them; so that the people who thus act are supporting a practice in which they do not believe and which in turn is chiefly responsible for a practice in which they do not believe. And thus they are doubly inconsistent. Remove the offense and the protest is removed. But as long as infant baptism continues, loyalty to God will set up a protest.
Let us come back to the sound principle of obedience to Christ. It is always safe to follow him. It is never safe to turn aside from the path marked by his blessed feet. We do not acknowledge history or tradition, sentiment or esthetics, church or prelate as our master in things spiritual; “One is our Master” and He has said, “Follow me.” It is his to direct, it is ours to obey.